A good recipe for cookies?

by Eszter Hargittai on October 29, 2007

A few weeks ago the Berkman Center for Internet and Society posted an interesting contest: create a short informative video about Web cookies and have the chance to win up to $5,000 and a trip to DC where the video would then be shown at the FTC’s Town Hall workshop on “Ehavioral Advertising“.

I’m afraid we’re past the deadline for submissions and I apologize for posting about this so late (life intervened and I got behind on a bunch of things). I wanted to post about it nonetheless, because I think it’s an interesting initiative and the resulting videos are available for viewing.

I was very intrigued by this contest given my interest in improving people’s Internet user skills. What would be a good way to communicate the concept of a Web cookie to folks who have little technical background? I haven’t looked at all of the submissions, but the ones I’ve seen I find are still too technical and are likely only comprehensible to those who already know at least a few things about Internet cookies. Alternatively, the clips are too vague and so likely have limited utility for that reason. I was a bit surprised and disappointed that people didn’t do more with the cookie analogy. Some of the videos have related cute/amusing components, but not incorporated in a particularly effective way. However, note that I have not watched all of the submitted videos so I may have missed some gems. Feel free to post links to ones you think are especially informative. I think the timeline for submissions was a bit short (I know there were particular logistical reasons for this), which may have prevented more people from getting involved and may have limited the amount of effort that could go into creation of the entries.

An interesting aside about how YouTube posts videos (assuming I understand this correctly, but I haven’t explored this aspect in depth so feel free to correct me): it seems that the creator of the video has little say over what becomes the thumbnail image for the clip. As far as I can tell, the frame is taken from the middle of the video, which is not always ideal as it’s not necessarily the most informative segment.



abb1 10.29.07 at 1:14 pm

A couple of weeks ago I configured my firefox (just out of curiosity) to prompt for confirmation every time someone is trying to create a cookie. There’s something interesting I noticed, maybe it’s common knowledge, but I doubt it. When you’re on a google-search-results page, just going mouse-over a link is enough for that site to set a cookie, at least in some cases. Not a google’s cookie, target site’s cookie, even if you never click on the link to that site. Try it. Is this an undeniable proof of the Evil Conspiracy or what?


Adam 10.29.07 at 1:40 pm

abb1 — I’m foolishly wading into a topic that’s out of my depth, but I think you must have enabled a Google feature that preloads search results. The point of this feature is to make your web surfing experience smoother. Pages are fetched in the background while you’re reading, so they appear to download instantly when you decide to click a link. Do you have the Google toolbar exposed?

Unfortunately, preloading can cause all sorts of ancillary effects that may be undesirable. I don’t know whether this behavior is technically evil, but I’m pretty sure you can disable it.


Adam 10.29.07 at 1:41 pm

exposed = installed. Not sure where that one came from.


abb1 10.29.07 at 1:58 pm

I don’t have Google toolbar. I have something called “Google Gears”, though I don’t remember installing it.

Yeah, come to think of it, pre-fetching initiated by mouse-over sounds like a reasonable explanation.


tps12 10.29.07 at 2:02 pm

It’s 2007! I don’t need to know what a cookie is any more than I need to be able to sharpen a spark plug or whatever.


melissa 10.29.07 at 2:38 pm

#5 tps12

If you, your friends & collegues, are computer adept, of course you assume everyone is computer adept. I do some work in online university education and masses of students don’t know what cookies are, or even terms like URL. These students are 18-22 (“the net generation”); many are from underserved & rural areas; but a surprising number are urban & suburban. They have learned only what they need (IM, facebook, google, and bookmark). They don’t have the concepts and vocabulary to take certain actions or follow directions.

Short informative videos would be great if, as Eszter notes, they were explanatory at the introductory level.


c.l. ball 10.29.07 at 5:19 pm

Re #6

This is an excellent point. For example, to tell a phishing email from a genuine one, being able to read the URL in the link is helpful, or knowing that the sender’s address looks funny is a big help to stopping fraud.

BTW this one is not bad. Not great, but fairly good for a novice.


Eszter 10.29.07 at 8:30 pm

tps12 – Actually, it’s precisely this type of attitude that videos of this sort may try to address. If you care about privacy, for example, then you do need to know what a cookie is. If you don’t care about privacy then perhaps a video about why perhaps you should would be helpful. I’m not suggesting that we should force people to care about everything, but I think they should be informed about certain practices before deciding that they would rather dismiss them.

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